Posts Tagged ‘turning point’

turning pointOnly in the re-telling of the beheading of John the Baptist in the book of Matthew, do we see a seemingly direct response from Jesus. He wanted to be alone and I can assume, he wanted to pray and contemplate the implications of John’s death. Not long after this self-imposed sequester, the crowds find him, he heals a ton of people, he feeds a ton of people, and he is basically “outed” as more than the average human.

When Jesus heard about John [the Baptist], he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. When the crowds learned this, they followed him on foot from the cities. When Jesus arrived [landed] and saw a large crowd, he had compassion for them and healed those who were sick. [Matthew 14:13-14, CEB]

The death of John the Baptist was a turning point in Jesus’s ministry. No longer a game of secret miracles and teachings on the hill, Jesus went into overdrive, preparing his teams for the next round in transforming the way humans would engage their God. John’s execution is approximately the midpoint in Jesus’s three-year crusade. From this moment on, I believe Jesus saw his work in the light of life and death, not only for himself but for anyone who believed.

John the Baptist died for unabashed truth-telling. He was not terribly diplomatic or politically correct. In fact, he was brash and tactless, a veritable bull in a china shop. Whether at the hands of Herod or another, John would have been killed sooner than later. He was a fish swimming upstream all of his life. He saw the world in black or white terms.

I believe Jesus was much more measured in his dealings with people of all stripes, colors, and persuasions. Even at the end, he often chose silence instead of outspokenness.

But I am getting away from myself. Turning points are important to see clearly in our own lives, but unfortunately, we can only see them in hindsight and not by foresight. All the same, those moments are meaningful and we should all take the time to evaluate our own. Take the time to write them down. Usually, they are fairly easy to identify — those moments where we took the left road instead of the right.

But the biggest question for me today is whether I have reached that turning point in my faith. Have I reached the ultimate understanding of what it means to follow the Christ? Life and death. Total abandon. All in.


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Art by Joseph Liner

Thirty two years ago, I responded to a nation-wide call to Christians around the country to fast and pray in Washington, D.C. II Chronicles 7:14 was the keystone verse to that call and that day became known as Washington for Jesus. I arrived with national hope for healing but left with disappointment.

II Chronicles 7:14
“. . . if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

I had taken the call seriously. I traveled a long way, prepared myself to fast, and meditated on the scriptures. In my imagination, the Mall would be filled with prayer like in the days of David and Solomon and the Shekinah glory would fall. Instead, there was amplified praise music and prayer from the stage area, political rhetoric, picnics, vendors selling “Jesus Junk,” street proselytizing, and tracts, tracts, tracts. Hope was being directed to a political agenda and not to the instruction and promises God had given to Solomon.

Granted, it is much more difficult to turn a country’s focus. Change begins at the grass roots level, it begins with the individual.

So, here are the steps to healing that I have gleaned from this scripture. This is where I must begin:

  1. Know who you are. God is speaking to the “people called by my name.” Am I a child of God? I am. I have accepted God’s authority over my life.
  2. Humble yourself. As long as I believe my way is the best way, I can interfere with the divine plan. Humility with others is tough; with God, moreso.
  3. Pray. There are thousands of ways to pray, from casual chat to ritualized liturgy. They are all useful as long as the heart is bent toward God.
  4. Seek God’s face. A little different from prayer, but certainly an aspect of prayer, this seeking implies expectation. If I am told to seek then I am expected to find. The key is understanding that God’s face is reflected in a myriad of ways including the faces of human beings.
  5. Turn aside from the old ways and habits. This is probably the most difficult step if it’s done out of order. It’s not just a quarter turn, it’s a 180. It’s a decision. I don’t even have to walk in that new direction, just turn, and God will show up.

These are steps that will bring healing to any situation. And physical healing? I don’t know, perhaps that too. Perhaps, as the heart and soul are healed, the body follows. But I can’t speak with any authority about that, I have not yet grappled with serious illness.

The promises are threefold if we follow the five steps: God will hear, God will forgive, and God will heal.

I am reminded of the four friends who broke through a ceiling to lower their paralyzed friend down to Jesus [Mark 2:3-5] and it’s revealing to me that Jesus forgave his sins first.

I don’t know how to bring a nation around, but I believe we could start with our own lives. The “land” is basic, it’s the foundation of our Earth. What is foundational in our daily lives?

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The passage I read today from Romans is not a particular favorite. Talk of cutting off and God’s sternness and unbelief is always difficult. As I contemplated these unpleasant attributes of God, I considered the importance of timing.

Romans 11:23
And if they [Israelites] do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.

Each of us has windows of opportunity to experience or meet God. I can certainly look back and see some of those windows that opened and closed. They were crossroads I didn’t recognize at the time because I took the other way. As a child, I can remember going to Vacation Bible School and although I enjoyed the activities and “something to do” in the summer, I didn’t meet God there. And later in high school, one of my closest friends was a PK (preacher’s kid) and I adored her family but it never occurred to me to embrace their God. In college, I was in a sorority where many of the girls were active in Campus Crusade, but I didn’t even consider attending a meeting. There must have been more of these “close calls from Christ” in my young adult years, but I don’t remember them.

God reached out to me and for that season of time, I could have looked through and believed. Who would I have become? No telling.

I am grateful there were many windows.

If there were many windows for me, then there are many windows for others. Christians get so hung up thinking about someone who hasn’t “accepted Christ” and “oh, they will be lost forever.” But there is always another opportunity. There is always another moment in time. We just can’t see it now.

My mother was against all things religious for years and years. By the time she reached her nineties and was living with us, I assumed she would never experience God in any kind of real way. Then, as dementia set in, the likelihood seemed even more remote. But one night, while I was sitting by her bed, chatting quietly until she fell asleep, she said, “Oh, look, it’s Jesus,” and then, “Oh, he’s reaching out to me with an invitation (this was all in Latvian, so the word was specific to a card or written invitation),” and then, after some moments she said, “I think I’ll take it. Yes, I’m going to take it.” And then after some silence, she opened her eyes and told me how beautiful it all was. I was mesmerized. I thought she might die in that moment and just go on to be with the Christ. It was an amazing experience to watch her face, her countenance and to hear the quality of her voice. It was a different woman, totally coherent, and totally enraptured. She died a few weeks later.

My mother had missed ninety years of open windows, but there was still another window ready to open again.

God can be stern and even close windows for a season, but in the end, there is still that grace and mercy and kindness. God will reach in. Today or tomorrow. It doesn’t matter to God who exists outside of human time. Holy, holy, holy.

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It’s difficult to see something with new eyes or get new understanding when our memories abound with old movie images and Sunday School bible stories. Who can forget Yul Brynner’s angry, jealous, heart-hardened Pharaoh who would not let Mose’s people go?

Romans 9:17
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

I used to believe that people who were marked for despicable acts by God were literally “born and bred” for those moments. I limited my definition to the word, “raised” to be “reared” as in a child who is reared by his parents. But there are over 31 meanings for the word including “setting in motion” or “to cause” something to happen. That means someone could be “raised up” in a single moment, a single choice.

We will never know much about the childhood of Rameses or what challenges he faced as he was being trained for leadership. Perhaps he had always struggled with making decisions and his tutors put heavy constraints on him to “stick to his guns.” In any event, he came to a point in his life, when he was confronted by Moses and said, “No.” And with each “No” he uttered, the future of a people was set into motion.

I cannot assume that Rameses was particularly evil or cruel as a child, teen, or even young man. In fact, a quick trip over to Wikipedia shows that he was actually known as “Rameses the Great” and ruled for nearly 66 years. Or was it Rameses I (even that is unclear historically)?

Whichever Pharoah oppressed the Israelites and then later tried to block their “exodus,” his “raised up” moment could have happened in a heartbeat and God used that encounter to birth a nation.

I don’t believe I’ll ever be comfortable with the idea that a child is born with an evil future. Depending on the scenarios and the choices made along the way, there will be always be turning points that can bring a person to an evil day and time (or not). Does God know how a life will go? Sure, as I have written before, God is outside of linear time. And yet, a life still has more to it than a signature event or time period. Men and women who are remembered for evil may have kissed a child, planted a tree, loved a mate, or created something of a beauty as well.

If I love someone today, anyone, that moment could turn the tide the other way, for me as well as for the “other.” It is why the power is in the now. We can all be change agents for God through touch, compassion, friendship, love: koinonia.

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Mercy is the best thing ever, particularly when we’re on the receiving end. But, it gets a little dicey when we see some other “undeserving” soul get the good stuff.

Romans 9:14-15
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” [Exodus 33:19]

God is at the bottom line and no matter how hard we try to understand God’s distribution of suffering and mercy, we will never be able to get it. What often appears “unfair” is not for us to judge. Scripture promises that God is just; our understanding is not required in God’s dimension.

My essential characteristics, my natural abilities, my intelligence, my body, my mind, my spirit: these were the ingredients God put together to make me into “me.” These, along with the circumstances and environments out of my control (where and how I grew up) including my parents and genealogy, all come together as my life’s infrastructure. Upon these, I can add building blocks while others can add to the structure as well. I grow, I become, I change. . . or not.

God’s mercy has kept me alive these many years. There were roads I supernaturally avoided that would have led to my early death. There were dangerous people that I fortunately bypassed. There were places I never had to visit. I wasn’t just lucky, I was under grace.

But there was still my willfulness and it narrowed my journey and brought me to turning points that I chose; many of those choices were not wisely considered. For good or ill, they brought me to this day, this hour, this life.

I cannot go back and relive or choose differently. I cannot project who I will be tomorrow. I can only walk out today, being mindful of the gifts, the mercy, the presence of God, the possibilities.

Oh Lord, what will we make of this day together?

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John 18:4-6
Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

The gospel of John is the only account of the crowd falling down to the ground when Jesus was arrested. Isn’t that the strangest thing? How could this happen? Why would John include this in the gospel?

I really like creating pictures in my mind as I read. Needless to say, my picture for this scene is quite dramatic. The only thing I can wrap my head around is that Jesus released a great deal of power (a release of power is also recorded in the story of the woman who bled for 12 years and touched his cloak in Mark 5:32). In my mind, Jesus was always having to choose to limit himself to the human side, the human container. But this moment was really a turning point. It was no longer a possible future; it was no longer a mere concept.

Turning points are moments of power in all of our lives. Some years ago I participated in a wonderful conference on “Story” at the Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle. Before starting the workshop, our homework was to identify the turning points in our lives. This was a very illuminating exercise and I recommend it for everyone.

The power in a turning point comes from the motive or driver that brings the moment before us. Do we take the left or right fork in the road. When we choose a direction that is under girded by the Holy Spirit, then power is released. In Jesus’s case, there was enough power to knock down a crowd of people. If we take the other path, we are on our own.

If a turning point comes today, Lord, guide my decision.

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